Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Correcting Error

James 5:19-20

A recurring theme in the New Testament is that of being turned away from the truth. The Old Testament records numerous times when Israel turned away from God to some other belief or practice. Human nature hasn’t changed, and turning to other things remains a problem in today’s society. In describing what is needed in the various churches in Revelation 2 and 3, three of the seven churches have fallen into this trap. One has followed the doctrine of Balaam, accepting changes to the Word of God, one is named as having replaced the Word of God with other teachings, the doctrine of Jezebel, and one, described as being dead despite a reputation for life, has simply held to their traditional beliefs, without concern for the Bible. A fourth church has become primarily a social organization, and God says he’d spew them out of his mouth.

The problem is so prevalent that almost every New Testament writer addressed it, and James is no exception. He focuses on the possibility of correcting such error, and the benefits. If the error can be corrected, God will forgive the sin, people will be saved, and sin will be forsaken.

“Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20)

Most of the early Christians were of Jewish descent, and there was a movement by some to try to force all Christians to live by Jewish standards. Galatians was written to warn of the danger of false teachers who were teaching that a Christian must practice Jewish standards. Several groups today hold similar doctrine, although it appears to be most prevalent among Messianic Jews. Galatians 6:1 was written to deal with this problem as well as other sin. “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.”

Stress is placed on trying to correct the sin. Titus was written as a guide for selecting and training Pastors and Church leaders. In Chapter 1, a list of qualifications is given, concluding with a requirement that he knows and believes the scriptures. By properly using and explaining the scriptures, error and false doctriune can be corrected, according to Titus 1:9-11.

“Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake.”

Later, Paul instructs that an effort is to be made to correct false doctrine, but if one persists in holding such false doctrine , there must be separation. Titus 3:10 commands, “A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.” We are not to reject them out of hand, as they may just be deceived themselves, but if they choose to ignore scripture they are to be rejected.

Revelation 2 and 3 warn the churches that they must change or suffer the consequences of their sin. Romans 16: 17-18 tells us to separate from those who deliberately continue in error because they are not serving God. “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.”

1ti 4:1 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; 1ti 4:2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; 1ti 4:3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. 1ti 4:4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: 1ti 4:5 For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. 1ti 4:6 If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained. 1ti 4:7 But refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. 1ti 4:8 For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.

Monday, June 28, 2010

When should we Pray?

James 5:13-18

James has taught quite a lot about praying in the book already. So often Christians think God doesn’t care because they don’t see immediate results of their prayers. After a while they just quit praying. We’ve already looked at some reasons why prayers don’t get answered. In Luke 11, Jesus was teaching his disciples how to pray. He uses the illustration of a man asking his friend for help. Though the friend wouldn’t have got out of bed just for friendship, because of his need, he will.

“And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.” (Luke 11:5-8)

We can expect God to act on our needs, regardless of any personal inconvenience, because he cares about our needs. He is a loving father. As a result, we can expect him to deliver what is needed.

“And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (Luke 11:9-13)

Unlike the unjust judge of Luke 18, we don’t have to nag at God to get an answer. It is a heathen idea that we have to keep repeating our prayers to God to get an answer. Matthew 6:7-8 forbids such an approach. “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” James gives specific guidelines about when we should pray.

“Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms. Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” (James 5:14-16)

We ought to pray when we are struggling, discouraged , or depressed. It is the first and most effective thing to be done. Philippians 4:6-7 commands us not to allow our selves to worry, but to pray, and the Holy spirit will give us an attitude of peace. “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Sometimes it is hard to pray when things are tough.

When we are rejoicing, we ought be singing songs of thanksgiving. Ephesians 5;19-20 describes the effect. “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Eph 5:20 Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;”

Health problems should be addressed with prayer. God is the source of all healing. This does not mean not applying medication. In the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, the Samaritan anointed the injured man with oil and wine. Luke 1:34 describes his actions. “And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.” We are to apply proper medications, praying for God to produce needed healing.

We ought also pray when sin is detected. We need to confess to each other, as well as to God. Proverbs 28:13 warns, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” Admitting our sin to others isn’t easy, but it is necessary to make things right with those we have wronged. I John 1:8-10 drives the point home. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” Calling most people liars makes them angry. God cannot lie, and calling him a liar is pretty dumb.

James made it very clear that prayer to satisfy human lusts is ineffectual. He also made it clear that a flippant and undecided prayer will produce no results. Psalm 66:18 says deliberate sin will prevent God’s hearing requests other than for forgiveness. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me:” On the other hand, a proper prayer, sincerely made, from a person who is seeking to please God accomplishes a lot. Elijah is a powerful example of the results of such prayer.

“Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. Jas 5:18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.” (James 5:17)

Let Your Word Be Enough

James 5:12

In the American West, it was considered far worse by many to break your word than to kill someone. When a man made a promise, it was assumed that he would keep it regardless of what it might cost him. Even when I was a child, most business deals were sealed by a simple handshake, and a man who broke his word was a pariah no almost one would do business with.

Today, it is considered a mark of good business to hire lawyers to figure out ways to get out of contracts, and the childish “I had my fingers crossed” attitude prevails. People think little of swearing to a statement or contract. Psalm 15 asks, and then describes who will be found with the Lord in the last days. According to Verse 4, one of those who will be there is, “He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.”

The idea of not keeping the word has led to natural men depending on some type of solemn oath to assure commitment. Hebrews 6:16 refers to that attitude. “For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife.” The idea that an oath is needed implies an intention of not keeping our word. James says that a simple statement should be enough, and that Christians should not use any kind of oath.

“But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.” (James 5:12)

Jesus himself made a similar statement. Under the law, there was to be no question of fulfilling what one had promised to the Lord. For the Christian, anything more than a simple statement is based on a commitment to evil, and Christians should be holy, not evil. Under the Scribes and Pharisees, The need to fulfill one’s word depended on the oath. Jesus soundly rebuked them for this attitude in Matthew 23:16-23.

“Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.”

It was this attitude that led to Jesus prohibition on swearing in Matthew 5:33-37. Any additions to convince implies the speaker intends to break his promise. We are to exceed the Old Testament standard. Notice how closely this resembles James’ command.

“Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” (Matthew 5:33-37)

It clear this is more important than other commands when James says, “But above all things, my brethren, swear not.” After all, Revelation 21: 8 states, “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and ALL Liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”

Friday, June 25, 2010

Evidence Of Our Faith

James 5:7-11

Our society doesn’t like to believe that trouble is normal, Yet Jesus told us, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world,” in John 16:33. James 1:2-4 explains the purpose of the trouble. “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”
Through the trials, we develop patience, learning to trust God even though the results are not immediate. As patience grows and produces obedience despite obstacles, we become fully developed, mature Christians. All too often, we try to make things happen, because we don’t trust God. King Saul made that mistake in I Samuel 13:5-14.

“And the Philistines gathered themselves together to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen, and people as the sand which is on the sea shore in multitude: and they came up, and pitched in Michmash, eastward from Bethaven.

“When the men of Israel saw that they were in a strait, (for the people were distressed,) then the people did hide themselves in caves, and in thickets, and in rocks, and in high places, and in pits. And some of the Hebrews went over Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. As for Saul, he was yet in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling. And he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had appointed: but Samuel came not to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him.

And Saul said, Bring hither a burnt offering to me, and peace offerings. And he offered the burnt offering. And it came to pass, that as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might salute him.

And Samuel said, What hast thou done? And Saul said, Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that thou camest not within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered themselves together at Michmash; Therefore said I, The Philistines will come down now upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication unto the LORD: I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering.

And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the LORD thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would the LORD have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever. But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the LORD hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the LORD hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the LORD commanded thee.”

When Samuel asked him what he’d done, notice that Saul said he’d forced himself to offer the sacrifice. He knew it was against God’s command, but he didn’t want to wait to do what God had said because he was afraid he’d lose to much support. His faith as tied to how many he had in his army, not on the power of God, so he had to keep his supporters happy, even by disobeying God. Samuel said that failure to wait on the Lord would cost him the kingdom.

“Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door.” (James 5:7-9)

There is a temptation to quit serving God and devote our energies to making a living as we realize that the Lord may not come immediately. Some even turn their backs completely. Hebrews 10;35-38 stresses that the reward will come at the proper time. We just need to continue to obey till that time. “Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.” Those who quit serving God will not receive rewards.

Sometimes we begin to feel envy as others appear to have more or be more blessed than ourselves. Galatians 5:25-26 warns against that attitude. “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.” Rather than looking at other’s rewards, we need to check out our own efforts, whether we have done our jobs. Galatians 6:4-5 commands, “But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden.” Every person has to carry his own share, and will be rewarded for his own efforts. “Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.” (I Corinthians 3:8) Some of those who seem to have a lot may have nothing in heaven.

Some of the trials we go through are totally unfair. We are falsely accused of wrongdoing, or our mate leaves us for no valid reason, a child dies, or some horrible disease develops. The possibilities are endless, but the point is that you didn’t deserve the problem. This is exactly the situation we need to not get upset about. I Peter 2:20 says these are the things God blesses us for enduring. “For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.” Don’t throw away the rewards because the problem doesn’t seem fair.

“Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” (James 5:10-11)

II Thessalonians 1:4-5 says that the patience in unfair trials is evidence of the reality of our salvation, and of deserving eternal life. “So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure: Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer:”

What evidence are you showing?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

What’s your Retirement Plan?

James 5:1-6

A distant cousin of mine was quite rich when he died. As a young man, he would take advantage of his relatives, charging them exorbitant amounts to haul cattle to market for them, while refusing to pay them for doing the same for him. He scrimped and found every way to get out of paying his fair share during his entire life, taking advantage of every government program which he possibly could. He refused to drink coffee in th local cafĂ© because they’d raised their prices, and wouldn’t give him the old price, driving to the next town to get coffee instead. In other words, he did everything business executives are encouraged to do to make their stock prices grow, just a little harder.

After he became rich, he would sit and watch the stock market reports to see if his portfolio had increased in value daily. His family says that it the market went down, he would be so upset he’d have to go vomit. If his wife spent more than he expected for groceries, or some thing broke down, he was apoplectic. I cannot imagine how horrible his life must have been. Howard Hughes’ biography, and that of J. Paul Getty reveal similar misery at the end of their lives. James describes the potential state of the rich.

“Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.” (James 5:1-3)

Many spend their entire lives trying to get rich. We are told how much emphasis we need to place on preparing for our retirement. As a result, when the stock market dips or the economy falters, people panic, although not all toe level of my cousin. The rich man panics because he has so much to lose, yet Proverbs 23:5 warned against focusing on wealth. “Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven.” Depending on our wealth is going to be a wild rollercoaster ride, because it is so unstable. Proverbs 11:28 warns, “He that trusteth in his riches shall fall: but the righteous shall flourish as a branch.”

Even if we manage to retain our wealth, we have no assurance that we will have a long happy life, or what will happen to our wealth after we die. How many trusts, created to protect the assets of a rich parent, lost their money because they had invested with Bernie Madoff, thinking it was a good investment? What assurance is there that new tax laws will not wipe out such a trust? Jesus addressed these issues in his story in Luke 12.

“And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.

And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?

And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.

But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:15-21)

Psalm 39:6 points out how foolish it is to get upset about trying to get wealth and belongings. “Surely every man walketh in a vain show: surely they are disquieted in vain: he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them.” We have no real control who will benefit from our efforts.

There is a temptation to take advantage of the ignorance, or misfortunes of others to try to get rich. Disasters like hurricane Katrina reveal that many are doing the very thing. There is also a temptation to offer bribes or incentives to get rich peoples’ business, as many states and cities have done. Proverbs 22;16 warns about doing so. “He that oppresseth the poor to increase his riches, and he that giveth to the rich, shall surely come to want.” How many of our state and city governments would not be in debt if they hadn’t offered such incentives.

Timothy 6:9-10 warns of the danger inherent in the temptations. “But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” Yielding to the temptation will not go unnoticed.

“Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.” (James 5:4-6)

David states that those who get rich using the world’s techniques are ungodly in Psalm 73:12. “Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches.” II Peter 3:7 and Jude 1:15 stress the judgment to be executed on ungodly men. Proverbs 22:1 declares that a good reputation is better than wealth. “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.” Many of my rich cousin’s relatives and acquaintances avoided him because they feared he would cheat them. Many other rich people experience the same isolation. As Psalm 37:16 states, “A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked.”

If we devote ourselves to pleasing God, on the other hand, Psalm 112:1-3 promises wealth and fame will come as a byproduct, and the rewards will be eternal. “Praise ye the LORD. Blessed is the man that feareth the LORD, that delighteth greatly in his commandments. His seed shall be mighty upon earth: the generation of the upright shall be blessed. Wealth and riches shall be in his house: and his righteousness endureth for ever.”

Which would you rather have? Temporary wealth immediately, or permanent rewards and wealth for the long term? It’s your choice.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Our Human Arrogance

James 4:13-17

Several years ago, I stopped to look at a truck that was for sale. The salesman insisted I should buy the truck, going out of his way to try to get financing for me. My repeated protestations that I didn’t want to go into debt for it were viewed as some what silly. After all, as he pointed out, I had a good stable job, and my income was sure to go up. More debt would be no problem.

Our current economic situation is the direct result of that reasoning. We know that our income will grow enough to enable us to make the payments. That is pretty arrogant. The people on their way to work in the World Trade Center on 9-11 had no way of knowing that their place of employment would be destroyed before the day was over, and that 2000 of them would be dead, and that many of their employers would go out of business as a result. The employee who took out a loan the week before would be unable to make his payments and lose his home as a result.

Just before the current crisis, people took out mortgages, and borrowed money for cars on the same assumption. Less than a year later, people from our church lost the home they’d bought, and their entire down payment, because the company the husband had worked for laid off the entire crew. The belief that it couldn’t happen to them cost them almost everything.

We have no control over most of the things around us, but God does. To ignore his control and assume we can make it go our way is pretty arrogant. It is even more arrogant to knowingly do what experience indicates will produce results different than what is desired, insisting that this time it will produce the ones we want, yet governments, businesses, and individuals regularly do so. James warns about the attitude.

“Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” (James 4;13-14)

Luke 12:25 points out that we can’t even control our own physical size, and asks why we bother to try to control more important things. “And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit? If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest?” What gives us the idea we can control other people, the weather, our health, or the economy?

The Bible definitely teaches setting goals, but we need to recognize God’s authority in setting those goals. When we fail to recognize his authority over our actions, we imply that we are not dependent on him. We need to understand that as Acts 17:28 says, “For in him we live, and move, and have our being.” Our very existence, our abilities, and our life is totally dependent on him. Our prideful statements about what we are going to do are evil.

“For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil. Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” (James 4:15-17)

We ought to acknowledge God’s actions in setting our goals, by saying if God allows, I’ll live and accomplish these things. The attitude advocated by most positive thinking advocates is evil because it doesn’t acknowledge God. When we deliberately refuse to do what we know is right, deliberately sin, which is often called iniquity, we deserve more severe judgment, according to Luke 12:47-48. “And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more."

Take the time to acknowledge him in your plans.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Pride Has No Place In a Christian’s Life

James 4:6-12

We live in a world where pride is viewed as desirable, as demonstrated by the saying, “If you don’t have pride, you’ve got nothing.” The Bible gives a different perspective of pride. Proverbs 6:16-18 lists seven things God hates. First on the list is “a proud look.” Verse 5 of the same chapter warned, “Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD: though hand join in hand, he shall not be unpunished.”

Mark 7:21- 23 lists pride as an evil thing which makes a man worthless to God. Psalm 10:4 says it is what causes a man to refuse to turn to God. “The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts.” Solomon defined service to God as hating evil. As a result he lists pride and arrogance as two things he hated in Proverbs 8:13. “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.”

Since God so hates pride, and deliberately destroys it, as both scripture and history tell us, but supports the humble, James advises that we set aside our pride and yield to God, allowing him to have his way. In doing so, we prevent the devil gaining influence, forcing him to flee because God occupies our heart. As Galatians 5:16 states, “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.” Satan doesn’t exert much influence on those he has fled from.

“But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:6-7)

In acts 17:24-31 Paul spoke to the Athenians about how God had created the world, and provided every need of man, establishing the various empires. Acts 17:27 states God’s intent, “That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us.” I Timothy 2:4 tells us that God wants every man to come to him. “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” Though this is God’s desire, he will not hold the door open forever. Isaiah 55:6 advises, “Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:”

God has given us freedom to come to him. Hebrews 4:15-16 says Christ understands and wants us to come. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” James promises God’s blessings as a result.

“Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.” (James 4:8-10)

I will probably never forget hearing a preacher talk about hating the way people used Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, that ye be not judged,” to imply it was wrong to condemn them. After all, John 7: 24 commanded. “judge righteous judgment,” making us responsible to judge them. His message completely ignored many verses like Luke 6:37, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.” As Romans 2:1 says, “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.”

Romans 14:4 asks who gave us the authority to judge God’s children. “Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.” They have to answer to God, not to us. In judging fellow Christians, James says we usurp God’s authority.

“Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?” (James 4:11-12)

Instead of judging others, we need to examine the effects of our own actions according to Romans 14:13. “Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.” Judgment of other things can wait until God makes it clear what the person was supposed to do. I Corinthians 4:5 commands, “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.”

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Why Do We Fail So Often?

James 4:1-4

Years ago, I heard preachers brag of being “Fighting Fundamentalists.” In reality, a fundamentalist is one who believes in the basics, the fundamentals, not just someone trying to impose his own beliefs, as is often portrayed. Since II Timothy 2:24-25 states, “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves,” the term ‘fighting fundamentalists’ seems like an oxymoron. It is like the preacher who claimed God must have wanted him to have a hot temper since he gave him such a bad one, Ignoring God’s command to put away all anger and wrath in Ephesians 4:31. As we saw in chapter 3, the very attitude is Satanic. James now goes to the very heart of the issue.

"From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?” (James 4:1)

James 1:13-15 makes it very clear that God doesn’t cause the lust, and Satan doesn’t force us to yield. “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” Satan offers man an attractive choice, and man decides whether to take it or not. Conflict is a choice to sin. The Biblical solution, even when called for, is separation, not conflict. The conflict is the result of our pride, our desires for power, prestige, wealth, and physical gratification.

Thousands of books, courses, and seminars are available to help you obtain the things you want. There are courses to teach salesmen to sell more, pastors to build bigger churches, writers to produce books that people buy. There are seminars in how to pray to get God to give you the things you want, and to teach politicians how to get votes. There are probably seminars on how to succeed at almost anything you might wish to do. Much of modern religion is devoted to such programs. Despite the many programs, most people do not obtain what they are seeking. Their experience is like that described in Haggai 1:6. “Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes.” James explains several reasons for this in the next few verses.

The first reason most efforts fail is the motive behind them. We selfishly focus on our own benefits. Perhaps the best illustration of this comes from the field of sales. Almost no one buys so you can make money. They buy because they receive a benefit from ownership. If they perceive that the benefit didn’t outweigh the cost, they probably will not buy again, or recommend the product. Even prayer produces little benefit when the purpose is for gratification of fleshly or sinful desires.

“Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” (James 4:2-3)

Charlatans often insist that if you say “in Jesus Name” or pray is some prescribed manner, God has to give what you asked. They often quote John 14:14 as proof. “If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” They apparently have no understanding of what it means to pray in Jesus name. As plumber, I was authorized to buy materials in the company name. That did not give me authority to buy personal items. I could only purchase what I needed to accomplish the company’s goal. John 5:14-15 explains, “and this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.”

A second thing that keeps us from benefiting from our efforts is a goal of pleasing the world. We desire to attain things so the world will notice and reward us, with popularity, fame, or wealth. We are like the adulterous husband who tells his wife how much he loves her while conducting an affair and planning to divorce her. We have to choose which we want. We can’t have both.

“Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

Just as the adulterous husband doesn’t love his wife, as shown by his infidelity, the person who is in love with what the world offers doesn’t love God. I John 2:15-17 warns that what the world offers is temporary, while what God offers is eternal. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” The world has limited resources, and can only give to one by depriving another, placing everyone in competition. There is no reason for God to give to those who do not love him.

The final and most important reason human efforts fail is that God actively opposes those who reject his authority and power. Acts 17:24-28 describes man’s total dependence on God. “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.”

It is pretty arrogant to refuse to acknowledge him when our very existence is dependent on him. Most people understand that initially, an injured wild animal will attack in fear when first caught. After he has been in captivity for a while, they expect him to accept overtures of friendliness. If he continues to attack every time they approach to help, eventually most will become frustrated and stop trying. God does all these things for us to enable us to survive. Such unappreciative behavior will eventually result in his no longer giving what we desire.

“Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” (James 4:5-6)

By acknowledging our dependence and being thankful, we can receive more from God. Refusal to do so will only reduce his willingness to give.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Spiritual Wise Man

James 3:13-18

There is a man who has attended several churches in our area. Time after time he has offended pastors and churches, telling them how they ought to be doing things. He has been very critical of pastors of other churches because they don’t do things the way they should. Having known the man for many years, I know that he has never been truly faithful in attending or tithing in any church he has attended. Any opportunity to work overtime, to go hunting, or special event has been an excuse to miss church.

The same man is a specialist at his trade and he becomes very offended when anyone suggests that he should do something different in his line of work, because that is his business. That other people are equally skilled at their trade as he is at his never occurs to him. Before a person tries to tell others what to do, he needs to demonstrate his own ability to do the job. James makes this point clearly.

“Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.” (James 3:13)

The Greek word translated conversation means the way one lives, not just the way he talks. If a man is really wise, or knowledgeable, his life should demonstrate it. Hebrews 13:7 stresses following leaders based on the results of the way they live, not their claims. “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.”

A genuinely wise person will learn from others before telling others what to do. As a result, his advice will be worth hearing, according to Proverbs 1:5. “A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels:” Proverbs 29:11 states, “A fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards.” It is foolish pride that makes a person speak before he knows. I Corinthians 3:18 advises us to admit we don‘t know and learn from others. “Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise."

The biggest source of conflict in any situation is a determination to have their way by people who really don’t understand the problem. As a result they don’t consider the impact of other factors on their idea, nor do they consider the impact their idea might have in other areas. They see only the desired result, and ignore the concerns of others, because of their pride. Proverbs 13:10 tells us, “Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom.” Putting aside our pride and getting valid information is the wiser way. Conflict ought to be a warning of future problems.

"But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” (James 3:14-16)

Many seem to take pleasure in the conflicts, and being able to impose their will on others, seemingly feeling that it proves their spiritual or intellectual superiority. I Corinthians 3:3 is very clear that it is proof of a lack of spirituality. “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” James says that attitude is not only carnal, but Satanic, and is accompanied by all kinds of sin.

A godly attitude on the other hand, is completely different. The decisions are pure, not based on pride. They are open to other opinions, ideas, and needs, and is considerate of the feelings of others involved. There’s no setting needs of one above another or pretence.

“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” (James 3:17-18)

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Tongue Indicates The Spiritual State

James 3:1-12

We live in a world where most people are trying to attain a higher position. A person who doesn’t strive for wealth and power is often viewed as lacking ambition, and thus lazy and not worth hiring. In reality, some have a different set of values, putting other things as more important. Christians ought not fall into that competitive mindset. Leaders and employers have a greater responsibility before God than others. While their rewards will be greater for those who do well, the penalties for doing wrong are more severe. In addition, there is greater opportunity for error., and none are immune to error. James warns against seeking such positions competitively.

“My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” (James 3:1-2)

It is especially easy for a leader to offend a follower, by appearing to favor one or neglect another. As a result, Colossians 4:1 cautions, “Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.” Being totally fair is nearly impossible. In Luke 17:1-2, Jesus warned that offending others was a serious problem. “Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come! It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.” Romans 14:21 declares, “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.” It is far easier to void doing such things when one is not a leader.

One of the most common causes of offense are carelessly spoken words. The attitude and interests show up in a persons speech. Matthew 15:18-20 states, “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man:”

Luke 6:45 states that what comes out of the mouth indicates what the state of the heart is. “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.” Clean and inoffensive speech indicates a heart that is right. If the heart attitude is right, the rest of the behavior will easily be brought under control.

“Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.

Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.

For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:3-7)

James 1:26 stated, “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain.” Such a person clearly isn’t qualified as a Christian leader or pastor. Although man can control or train almost any animal, from fleas and amoeba to whales, and can devise control systems for huge ships and miniaturized surgical robots, he cannot control the tongue.

The tongue is controlled by the heart, and only by changing the heart can the tongue be brought under control. Galatians 5:16 promises, “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.” Paul can promise this because of the heart attitude the Holy Spirit produces. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law,” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Without such a spiritual attitude, no man is qualified as a church leader. The qualifications for pastors and deacons in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 enable us to identify spirit filled men by their attitude, and the resultant actions. Rather than striving for the job, we need to strive to qualify. The persons speech, the way they use their tongue, is another way of checking spiritual health.

“Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.” (James 3:9-12)

A spring might be fed by both a good source and a poluted one, but when they come out of the spring, they mix, and all is polluted. It is the same with a tongue which mixes wonderful religious speeches with wickedness, the person is defiled. It’s those wicked words tha indicate the real situation. Matthew 12:36-37 warns, “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Dead Faith

James 2:14-26

Several years ago, Hank and Nancy Mantonya, missionaries to Brazil, visited our home. They had killed a small(17 foot) anaconda in their back yard, skinned it, and cured the skin, bringing it with them to show in the churches they visited. When they came into the house I had noticed our dog behaved in an unusual manner, not approaching them at all. Unpacking the skin, they unrolled it down the hallway to give us an idea how large the snake had been.

Our cat went into hysterics. Though she’d never before seen one, she identified the smell of the anaconda as that of a dangerous predator. She did not relax until the skin was taken back to the car. When they stepped out the door with the skin exposed, our dog left precipitously. Obviously he also recognized the smell as being of something extremely dangerous. What neither pet understood was that the snake was dead, and no longer posed a threat. The skin was real, but it had no power to hurt them. This is the thesis of James’ teaching on faith.

“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” (James 2:14)

When the earthquake struck Haiti, and hundreds of thousands were left homeless and lacking food or water. Thousands of churches across the United States began praying for the people of Haiti,although everyone knew that what they could give would have little impact. While the prayers sounded very pious, they would have meant little if people had not also done what they could and trusted God to make it enough. Government organizations delayed until they had enough to make a big difference, and thousands died before they began to act. It was the actions of the individuals that enabled many to survive. The individuals demonstrated their faith in trying to help some.

“Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.” Speeches may sound very religious and deep, but it is the action that proves the faith. Talk is very cheap. Action demonstrates the impact of the faith. Politicians who say they are of a certain religion, but they don’t allow their religion to influence them are much like the James describes the demons.

“Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? ” (James 2:19-20) The demons know there is a God, and that he will judge them because of their wickedness. Rather than stopping in hopes of escaping judgment, they increase their efforts to do as much evil as possible before they are judged. Their faith is absolute, but they don’t act accordingly, and it doesn‘t accomplish anything for them. They will still be judged.

Abraham demonstrated his faith by obeying God even when doing so appeared disastrous. His faith caused him to take action, to obey God. By doing so, God was enabled to provide the ram in Isaac’s place. Had he not obeyed, Abraham could never have seen what God intended for him, so strengthening his faith.

“Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” (James 2:21-24)

According to Rahab’s statement in Joshua 2:9-11, all the people of Jericho believed God would give Israel the victory. “And she said unto the men, I know that the LORD hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed. And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath.”

While the others decided it was hopeless, and that they’d fight to the death, Rahab took action, helping the spies and thus saving her entire family. Her faith produced action because it was alive, just as Abraham’s did. The action allowed God’s work to be observed in her life. God would have still done as he intended whether she helped the spies or not, but her faith would not have benefited her.

“Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:25-26)

Our actions do not produce the results, but they enable us to experience the results. Saving the spies, if not for God’s action, would have just made Rahab a traitor. Sacrificing Isaac would have made Abraham a murderer, except for God’s action. The actions themselves would not have accomplished anything, without the faith that prompted them. At the same time, faith that doesn't result in action will not accomplish anything.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Unloving Christians

James 2:1-12

A missionary friend was traveling across the south, and on Wednesday night, stopped at a church for the prayer service. Since he was planning on driving most of the night, he didn’t rent a motel, just changing into clean slacks and a sport shirt in the restroom at a gas station.

Upon entering the church he was informed that because of the way he was dressed, he’d not be allowed to sit in the main seating area, but could sit in a small separate section where he wouldn’t be seen. After thinking about it. He decided that with such an attitude, they probably wouldn’t have any thing of spiritual value to offer anyway and left to find a different church.

For several years, missionaries were encouraged to read "Dress for Success", because it would make such a difference in how they were supported. Pastors required that anyone taking part in a service wear a suit and tie, and some even dictated what colors were acceptable. The same philosophy was common among the Scribes and Pharisees. Matthew 23:5 describes their attitude. “But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments.”

Under the Law, God directed Israel to make a special border around their garments as a reminder to themselves of what God commanded them. Numbers 15:38-40 describes the border. “Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue: And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring: That ye may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God.”

They were also to wear a bracelet or head band with scriptures on it to remind them what God commanded, as Deuteronomy 6:6-8 describes. “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.”

The Scribes and Pharisees had begun to enlarge these as a decoration, and to make their religiousness obvious to others. They were no longer to remind themselves to obey God, but to impress others. Some Jews brought the same philosophy to being a Christian, treating those able to dress in such fashion as more spiritual or better than others. James addresses the situation.

“My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?” (James 2:1-4)

Literally, James says that to isolate someone or exclude them from participating in a service because they don’t meet some arbitrary dress code is evidence of an unspiritual and wicked attitude. I Corinthians 1:27-29 states that God has chosen to use things the world considers worthless so man can’t take pride in worldly things. “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.” Discriminating against someone on the basis of their clothing indicates a lack of understanding of God and his working.

“Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?” (James 2:5-7)

Bernie Madoff used fine clothes, expensive offices, and impressive associations to cheat people of billions of dollars. Rich business men, politicians, and criminals take unfair advantage of common people continually. The same men push to get prayer outlawed and accuse God of promoting wicked standards. Why should we accept them as spiritual models?

It is sin to forbid someone to take part in a service because they don’t meet our standards, or to give some one preference because they have a higher position, are richer, or have better connections. Those churches which refused to allow a person to collect the offering without a suit and tie, or forbid a man to preach because he had on the wrong color shirt were in sin.

“If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.” (James 2:8-11)

II Corinthians 3:17 tells us, “… and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” Unless God has specifically forbidden something, it is not forbidden. However, there is responsibility with the liberty. Galatians 5:13 warns, “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” Our liberty is not to be used to fulfill fleshly desires such as controlling others or amassing wealth. It is not to be used in such a way as to encourage others to sin or to turn them away, as we see in I Corinthians 8:9. “But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.” Liberty is not to be used as a way of getting at someone, as for example making them listen to your style of music to get even. I Peter 2:16 says, “As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.” We are going to be judged as to how we have handled that responsibility.

“So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.” (James 2:12-13)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Heart Attitude

James 1:16-25

When the Bible was written, there were no chapter or verse divisions. Those were added to make it easier to find our place. Without them, finding a particular verse is like finding a home in an area which has no system of addressing homes. One just hunts until he stumbles on it. Unfortunately, we tend to overemphasize the divisions, and isolate verses and chapters, forgetting that scripture was given as a story, each part building on and supported by what has gone before. Like a block wall, removing the mortar that binds the blocks together weakens the wall, and leaving out or removing blocks makes it even weaker. Only when the mortar binds them firmly in place does the wall attain maximum strength.

The same is true in the study of scripture. Separating a verse from it’s context weakens our scriptural stance, and ultimately, our doctrine. Words like wherefore and therefore highlight the dependence of what follows on what has been said before. The preceding statements are the basis for what is about to be stated. James 1:16-18 emphasizes the goodness of God. He will never act solely in his own interest, nor will he be cruel or vindictive. His goodness to us is purely a result of his decision, not of some action by us.

“Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” (James 1:16-18)

A child who understands how much his parents love him will go through painful and frightening events, and do jobs he doesn’t see the value of because he knows they wouldn’t deliberately hurt him. If we have a similar understanding and faith in God, it will change our attitude and behavior. We will be more ready to heed what God says, rather than losing our temper because something didn’t turn out the way we expected or someone did something we didn’t like. Our anger and quick response doesn’t result in Godly behavior, or results. Other people are hurt, and the work is hampered .

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20)

The quick anger indicates an unspiritual state, and leads to anger on the part of others as well as sin in the life of the angry person, according to Proverbs 29:22. "An angry man stirreth up strife, and a furious man aboundeth in transgression.” Realizing God’s goodness and love removes any justification for anger if we believe in him. It also precludes deliberate disobedience(iniquity). While we will occasionally sin, sin will not typify our lifestyle. It is this sense of commit that I John 3:9 refers to, saying, “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” The Holy Spirit will not permit an attitude of ongoing and deliberate sin.

Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:21)

Recognizing God’s holiness and his intent for our good, we can surrender our will to his, trusting him. That does not mean we passively wait for him to produce results. We must actively obey what he has directed.

“But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.” (James 1:22-24)

As James tells us in James 2:17, “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” Just knowing your hair is messed up doesn’t accomplish anything, You have to comb or brush it to change anything. Reading the Bible doesn’t do much until action is taken. God will bless the person who obeys him, because he has acted on what he heard.

“But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.” (James 1:25)
Based on this and similar statements it is easy to judge people based on their actions. Jesus used trees to help us understand the concept better in Matthew 7:18-20. “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” All trees produce leaves, provide shade, and produce wood and break carbon dioxide down to release oxygen. These are the works the tree does. The fruit is what it produces because it is a particular type of tree. The works and the fruit are not the same.

A person can do a lot of religious activity, but the whether he knows the Lord or not will show up in the attitude behind his works. If it is just what he has to do, for example, and he resents it, he is just going through the motions.

“If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:26-27)
There should be a real concern for others, and a sincere desire to do right, not merely a mechanical avoidance of certain wrongs. The attitude is the key to identifying the reality. The Jews, like many people today, placed most of their emphasis on the actions, and neglected the heart attitude, yet the heart attitude is more important than the actions. Proverbs 23:7 says, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” In Luke 6:45, Jesus stated, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.”